A Duty to Die?
How wide is the line between the right to die and the duty to die? I’m afraid we may find out soon enough.
Regular BreakPoint listeners have heard me speak about the impact of declining birth rates around the world. One consequence is that older people comprise an increasing percentage of the population in places like Japan and Western Europe.
This increases economic pressures on these countries since an aging population requires more services while having fewer young workers to pay for them.
One doctor has come up with a way to address the imbalance between pensioners and workers—that is, fewer pensioners.
What Dr. Philip Nitschke has in mind isn’t raising the retirement age—his goal is fewer pensioners.
Nitschke is the founder of Exit International, a self-described “world-leading Voluntary Euthanasia” organization. As part of his mission, Nitschke, who is from Australia, travels to different countries teaching people “how to end their lives safely.”
One of his methods is a dose of the barbiturate Nembutal. While in Britain, he told Reuters that “almost every 75-year-old I meet now sees merit in having their own bottle of Nembutal in the cupboard as an insurance policy, in case things get bad.”
Every 75-year-old? Clearly the Kevorkian from Down Under runs with an atypical crowd. As Reuters put it, “Nitschke’s is an extreme view.” Extreme, but unfortunately not unthinkable, especially given the trajectory of our culture.
At the same time Nitschke was speaking to Reuters, Britain was awaiting new guidelines for cases involving people who help family members commit suicide. The guidelines are the result of litigation involving a woman with multiple sclerosis who plans to go to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal. She wanted assurances that her husband wouldn’t be prosecuted for helping her kill herself. Britain’s law lords ruled that she was entitled to such assurances.
While assisted-suicide is still illegal within Britain, attitudes are changing. For example, the Royal College of Nurses has gone from being opposed to assisted-suicide to a position of neutrality. You don’t have to be an alarmist or even a pessimist to guess what the next change will be.
These changes coincide with the graying of the British population. Currently, 20 percent of Britons are over 65, and that is projected to rise to 30 percent by 2020. Pro-euthanasia advocates scoff at the idea that the elderly will be pressured to die by society, but British officials acknowledge the possibility. One told the BBC that he wouldn’t want to live in a society that pressured its elderly to kill themselves to make life easier for their families.
The government’s way of preventing that is laws that “strike a balance,” he said, between “sympathetic” cases and protecting the elderly. But you and I know where the road paved with good intentions leads. Without a bright line around the sanctity of human life, the extreme inexorably becomes the mainstream.
The so-called “right to die” can become, as one American politician suggested, a “duty to die,” especially as the costs associated with an aging population crowd out other priorities.
There is only one insurance policy against this nightmare—an unqualified commitment to the sanctity of life.
Further Reading and Information
Greying Britain Looks to Assisted Suicide Reform
Reuters | September 21, 2009
Assisted Suicide: Debate Around the World
BBC News | September 23, 2009
England Eases Rules on Assisted Suicide
Jeanne Whalen | Wall Street Journal | September 24, 2009
Killing without Consequences: 'The Last Goodnights'
Chuck Colson | BreakPoint Commentary | March 3, 2009